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it’s time to put your work out there

it’s time to put your work out there

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You really do get what you ask for, according to photographer Em Jensen.

I’ve been running my business for the past five years, which means I’m about five years late to learning the most important lesson of business. It’s a simple, obvious piece of advice that we so often hear and yet very rarely follow: you get what you ask for.

For so many years as an aspiring photographer, I was too scared to show my work to anyone I thought of as ‘important’ in the creative world. I had lists of galleries I’d love to exhibit at and magazines I’d like to be published in. I didn’t touch that list for a long time – out of fear my work wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t ready, and ultimately, out of fear of rejection. I felt that if they saw my work too early in my career, before I became some flawless, amazing photographer, they’d never want to hear from me again. Imposter syndrome as an artist really does continue to hold us back until eventually we decide, even if we really are an imposter (I highly doubt it), to just do something anyway.

So, I did something. One night in the midst of a lockdown in Melbourne, I had a glass of wine, sat down at my laptop and pulled out my list. I emailed the curators of all my favourite galleries, radio stations, magazines and online blogs. I shared with them my work – Sheilas, a documentary photography series following female motorcycle clubs – and told them about why my work deserved to be published or exhibited, and how I thought it would resonate with their audience. I personalised each email I sent and shared how long I’d been a fan or follower, and which of their exhibitions or stories I’d loved the most. I made sure to do my research, and to share my genuine feelings about how much it would mean to me to be given an opportunity. Still, I felt a tiny twinge of shame every time I pressed send on an email, and resisted the urge to throw my laptop into my cupboard, slam the door and hide under my doona. I waited a few days before checking my emails, because I had some kind of weird, almost superstitious fear that if I opened my inbox too early there’d be no replies and I’d feel awful and ashamed for ever putting myself out there. When I did eventually open it, I had a few replies; the most exciting was a letter of acceptance to exhibit with a huge photo festival – one I’d dreamed of being included in for years. Even though I didn’t hear back from a lot of them, that was enough for me to have a little faith in this whole ‘putting yourself out there’ concept.

So with that small bit of momentum, I decided to do it again. I emailed podcasts I wanted to be interviewed on, and they all said yes. I emailed a major radio station, almost laughing as I pressed send at the arrogance of even trying to get a radio interview with them. And the next day they called me and offered me a radio interview. I read an article about a country pub offering an artist residency and called the publican to ask if he’d be open to an exhibition there. I showed him my work and he offered to pay me to exhibit at his pub.

More has happened in the past six months of asking people for what I want than in the prior five years of being too embarrassed to just ask. I’ve realised that all these ‘important’ people are trying to find us, too. They only have so much time to scour the internet or search Instagram hashtags, and it’s a lot easier for them if you just pop an email in their inbox or give them a call. 

Ironically, in one of the podcast interviews I’d asked for, the interviewer brought up my exhibition with the photo festival. He questioned how it’d come about, how I could be exhibiting with such a renowned photo festival. I didn’t know what else to say, so I told him the truth: I’d literally just asked for it.For more small-business stories like this, visit frankie.com.au/strictly-business, or sign up to our monthly e-newsletter. Have a small-business story you’d like to share? Pitch it to us.